Thu, 29 May 2003

Bali bombing witness recalls night of horror

Wahyoe Boediwardhana and I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Grief and sadness marked the trial on Wednesday for the Bali bombings, as one of the heroes who led the disaster's rescue efforts cried during his testimony, apparently agonized by the horror he saw and the lives he was unable to safe.

Agus Bambang described the horror of the bombing scene minutes after powerful blasts devastated two nightclubs in Kuta district last October, killing at least 202 people, mainly foreign tourists.

"Those who were still alive with severe burns were crying for help 'please help me, it's very hot, take me to the hospital'," an emotional Bambang told the judges during the trial of bombing suspect Amrozi.

He said several of the victims died in his hands. "It was a disheartening and saddening experience having to witness the carnage of burning and mutilated bodies."

Bambang led a group of Muslim volunteers to the bombing site shortly after the blasts, before firefighters and medical aid arrived.

He ordered members of the Fardhy Kiffayah, a 2,700 strong burial brigade from Kuta's Istiqomah and Al-Mujahidin mosques to help him.

They rushed to the site with stretchers and white linen, helping the wounded and covering up the dead.

Toiling under the intense heat of the fire, the chaos and working nonstop for hours, Bambang and his men inspired other locals to join the rescue effort.

The 43-year-old Muslim continued his rescue efforts for some three weeks, taking out the dead as well as body parts from under the rubble that once had been the Paddy Club and the Sari Club.

The Oct. 12 Bali bombing on the Hindu-predominantly island was the largest terrorist strike since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington one year back.

Bambang's testimony again reminded the public of the seriousness of the charges Amrozi is facing. Similar stories of horror were told by nine other survivors during Monday's hearings, all of whom are still haunted by the memories.

A village mechanic, Amrozi allegedly helped assemble the bomb, as well as buying and driving the vehicle which was used for the bombing. He could receive the death penalty if found guilty.

Police have arrested 29 suspects in connection with the bombing, and Amrozi is the first to stand trial. The trial of the alleged masterminds are still pending. The suspects are believed to be members of the shadowy Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group.

Wednesday's hearing however was slightly interrupted by the boycott of journalists. The reporters laid down their cameras, laptops and other equipment on the ground across the main gate in a bid to get the trial shifted to the Nari Graha building.

They also were protesting against alleged police harassment of their fellow reporters on Tuesday night at the Ngurah Rai airport.

Reporters attempted to cover the four Bali bombing suspects who were flying to Jakarta to testify in the trial of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir the alleged spiritual leader of JI.

Police reportedly received orders from police officer Brig. Gen. Gorries Mere to chase away the television and radio reporters. They were taken to a nearby police stationed and questioned.